E-tales: System administration glitch

Presentation of the government's regional broadband action plan last week was all happy-happy-joy-joy about New Zealanders' ability to handle the technology and do productive things with it.

Presentation of the government’s regional broadband action plan last week was all happy-happy-joy-joy about New Zealanders’ ability to handle the technology and do productive things with it. But on the projected display behind ministers Swain and Anderton, a button kept popping up protesting that the PC running the slideshow couldn’t find its communications link and asking did we want to dial one? A quick click ensured that it went away for another minute or two, but no one among the ranks of technology enthusiasts seems to be able to get rid of it permanently.

Stating the obvious I

“I wonder what technologies we’ll have to use for full coverage; we’ve got lots of valleys with hills in between.”

A commentator at the rural broadband event.

Stating the obvious II

“Sorry, but I’m of absolutely no use to you.”

A spokesman for a large IT firm responds to a particularly tricky issue with a candour rare for the species.

Urgent download

Complete this sentence from an overseas visitor to his local PR minder after a Computerworld interview: “I know we’re running late, but before that next appointment I must dash off and …” Make a comfort stop? Call my sick mother? No, it was “replicate”. In other words, let the remote office system spill any new data it has into the speaker’s handheld device and vice versa. That’s the e-commerce age’s idea of an urgent need.

Gambling help

Our not-very-serious comment piece last week about extending the functioning of gaming machines to enforce sensible limits on gambling has provoked a serious response from Glynn Hooper, alias Ghoop, who styles himself “Supreme Commander”, or more prosaically, director, of Kiosk and Development Systems (KADS), a company based in Petone. “What you were suggesting is not far from the grand vision I have for the next generation of slot machines,” he says.

Gamblers would be encouraged, through a loyalty scheme, to register themselves on a database and define a monthly spending limit. The intelligent gaming machine would recognise them from, as we suggested, a card or biometric identifier. KADS has built a “proof of concept” model of a machine known as the NuSlot. Built on the basis of a TAB kiosk terminal, it has a camera incorporated for potential iris-scan or face-recognition to identify the user. This sidesteps our suggestion that punters may swap ID cards or get a friend to slip their digit on a fingerprint identifier pad.

The NuSlot is inherently a thin client to a network, he says, with all the work of transaction processing and random-number generation delegated to a central server; a different approach form current gaming machines, which do all their own processing. “All the NuSlot on a network would do is show you pictures while you’re waiting,” he says.

Hooper says there has been plenty of interest expressed in the idea, “but nobody seems to want to do anything”. He has spoken to ministers Paul Swain (commerce and IT) George Hawkins (internal affairs) and Annette King (health, with reference to problem gambling), but says “I’ve been spinning my wheels for 18 months” waiting for a concrete response.

Hooper spoke at a workshop in Auckland earlier this year, organised by the Problem Gambling Foundation and Auckland University’s Centre for Gambling Studies. “We need to do something about problem gambling”, he says, “and I think the best approach is to give the gambler the ability to manage his or her own expenditure.”

Mmmm ... pretty

Kartoo is a cool new search engine that delivers results in a graphical form. After getting hammered last week by love-anything-new surfers, it’s now taking requests again. It makes narrowing down results easy and hovering the mouse over a link gives you a useful summary. Other than that, we can’t see a great deal of point to it. But we love it anyway.

Disabusing scamsters

Britain’s The Register IT news site offers a few tips to deal with all those Nigerian fraudster letters. One is forwarding the email to abuse@ whatever the reply to the address is. That way, their email accounts get closed before anybody gets hurt, it reports. Another is forwarding it to abuse@ address of the ISP involved. Better still, the site talks of a new sport known as Nigerian Scam-baiting, with a few sites dedicated to the discipline known as 419s, after the relevent section of the Nigerian criminal code. One, www.scamorama.com, is jam-packed with every conceivable variation of these scams. Dealings with an Ibrahim Abubakar can be found at www.waronspam.com and www.thespamletters.com shows an entertaining one-man crusade by a Jonathan Land against one Dr Hamza Kalu.

Big Brother bucks

It’s not just Kiwi press release portal Newsroom earning ire (see Paul Brislen’s Dial Tone column) as it tries to make money online. Similar outrage has arisen following Britain’s Channel 4 wanting to charge $30 a month for live video streaming on its Big Brother 3 website (not the Australian version found on TV2). About 1000 viewers have signed an online petition demanding free viewing to the UK reality show’s third series.

Cash-strapped Channel 4 says it needs to charge to cover costs.

Pre-paper mobiles

Don’t want to fork out $300 for the latest prepay phone? UK student Stephen Forshaw has designed a cellphone made of paper he expects to sell for about $30. Forshaw sees his PS Call Me phone as an alternative to a greeting card. It is paper-thin, can be sent as a letter and has won a design award from Sony. The downside is, it can only be used once. The PS Call Me is not the only disposable cellphone to be invented. American Randice-Lisa Altschul has developed a cardboard throwaway phone that works until its battery runs out.

Cold blooded

English factory worker Nualsee Barrow, 37, has been cleared of attempted murder after stabbing her sleeping husband. He had admitted a relationship on the internet with a woman dubbed the Ice Lady. Thai-born Barrow admitted the lesser charge of wounding with intent at their Wiltshire home. Winchester Crown Court heard that Ian Barrow became “infatuated” with Ice Lady after spending many hours online playing the interactive game Delta Force. He had never met Ice lady but spent many hours communicating with the American by email and telephone and planned to bring her to the UK. The civil servant then told his wife of the relationship just days before she attacked his neck with a carving knife, severing an artery. The woman, who awaits sentencing, told the court: “I am not a violent woman, normally I am a passive person.”

CouplesDisunited.com

More trouble at UK website Friends Reunited.com. Not only dealing with a libel court case, the website has now pulled the message, now doing the email rounds across Britain’s offices, from a woman who calls her spouse “a piece of shit” among other things for going with “a hoar” who “most of you will have shagged” and similar comments. A reader of The Register website spotted a few errors to cast doubt on its authenticity, but the alleged philanderer has posted his own message calling his ex “a dog”, saying he dumped her because of their dull sex life. “I know she calls me an ugly bastard but I’m still the best thing she ever had.”

WTO web woes

The World Trade Organisation has also fallen victim to hoaxes. Protesters The Yes Men created a spoof site, complete with WTO logos, saying the organisation was to disband because trade liberalisation rules had increased poverty and inequality and eroded democratic principles. The WTO would be replaced by another organisation called the Trade Regulatory Organisation. BBC Online reports the organisation often falls victim to the same group of pranksters. The Yes Man website has received speaker invitations intended for WTO director general (and former Kiwi PM) Mike Moore. And yes, they have sent replacement people along.

T-shirt TV

French designers have developed a fabric woven from plastic optical fibres that glow with different images like a TV screen. Developers Emmanuel Deflin and France Telecom say the material will allow cellphones to download a new look into the fabric. A practical use would be for fighter-fighters or police to wear clothing displaying safety or warning information visible from afar, they say. To date, the team has made a jacket containing a very low-resolution grid of 8 x 8 pixels, which can create crude but readable signals such as numbers.

Whose baby?

If you’re not sure your kid is really yours, seek out DNAnow.com. The website is running a Dutch auction where bidders can name a price for DNA testing kits that normally retail for $600. The equipment — a jiffy bag and devices for taking hair and other samples — is supplied from Australia, which is where the tests reportedly take place.

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